Tag Archives: vocation

Preparing for mass

 

So I found my battered old missal and I hope I will find some surprisingly good and lifegiving things in there. The bent spine and falling off cover are the evidence of how far this book has travelled with me, since I celebrated my much anticipated “first holy communion” when I was seven, nearly eight.I will be critical of the old words and the old format, because I have a lot of baggage with the church and the patriarchal and kyriearchal words and my own exclusion from ministry against I am certain, God’s will and for no good reason.

Things might get a little bit catholic and weird as I move between my early memories of “church” the words of the liturgy as I was taught them and my current understanding/s of theology. If anyone is reading from a different tradition I guess you can have a sort of ethnographer’s view (or skip bits). I know there have been some minor changes to wording since I was a regular at mass. I don;t know them in details but as far as I know the few inclusive changes our progressive bishop brought in, in the 80s or 90s were removed and the changes that were made in no way made the mass less exclusive, or remediated the problems I had growing up…so I will speak of the old words and if I am wrong on some of the details someone can tell me if they really want to but it won’t make much difference I am sure.

I was going to start at the very beginning, with the greeting but when I opened the missal the first thing I saw was the “preparation for mass” prayers and I remembered that we got to church about half an hour or more early because my brothers were altar servers and this was really important (after spending all saturday following them to their sport and being on the sidelines there, I got to come to church and sit on the sidelines). But this was meant to be a wonderful opportunity for me to engage in contemplative prayer (at the age of about 7 or so) and I was encouraged to read over the readings of the mass that was coming- I never got out of this habit actually as this blog attests) and think about what they mean, and what they mean for ME and also read over the 3 pages (4 if you count the illustration that was also dense with words) of my missal that were prayers for preparing for mass. There were bible verses (John 6:51; 1 Cor 11:23-26,28; 1 Cor 10:1; Rom 12:1) and there were prayers by some of the “church Fathers”- St Thomas Aquinas, St Ambrose, and The Apostolic Constitutions from the 4th century.

It was heavy and hard going for a little girl but I struggled on because it seemed the right thing to do and I really did think I “loved God” and I was terrified I would have to be a martyr when I grew up like all the ones in the stories so I was willing to just read heavy stuff instead of that!

And really, if they want boys to grow up wanting to be priests, they should let the girls go out the back and miss half the mass “serving” and having a great time with their mates like my brothers did and make the boys read the heavy stuff and sit there with nothing to do but think about it. It’s all written by important leader types who think they are the last word in priesthood (that is how the prayers come across) so I was being encouraged to pray in a way as if I was actually making the whole mass happen by invoking the Holy Spirit to come in and “declare this bread that we shall eat to be the body of Christ”.

There was also a lot of very unhealthy bragging about how unworthy “I” was and unclean and fully dependant on God to make “me” worthy and clean. Rereading it in middle-age I still struggle with the heaviness of the language and ideas. I feel burdened again by the self-hate I felt as  child. And yet then there is a lovely black and white print of some wheat growing and some vines and sun and birds and the words on the print are “The love of Christ has drawn us here together” and goes on to ask that we “exult” and find “joy” and gather ourselves together and become one from all the corners of the earth.

I may have changed what I (with my post-structuralist little mind and liking of diversity) mean as “one”; but then I can return at the beginning of “mass” “church” “eucharist” “the service” “prayers” to refocus myself on the joy and relief that I had finished the long and patriarchal prayers and had reached the wheat, vines, sun and birds. Nature. Food. Life. Joy and exultation. Difference and coming together.

I want to do some more serious and careful prayer writing or liturgy writing this year. Maybe I can start there. Maybe back to where the reflection started with John’s Jesus proudly proclaiming that he has come to be “bread” for “life”., through all the unworthiness into the fresh air and the fields where we grow bread and share it with wildlife.

Today I shared felafel with some excellent friends who support me when I am hurting and poor and who today needed a felafel and someone to laugh with. I shared a dance in front of an audience with a group of people I had felt estranged from. I walked down a crowded street where African people generously shared their culture with us. I made plans for the birthday of one son and an outing for another son. I also washed dishes, emptied kitty litter, hung out clothes. Joy was everywhere. Bread/felafel was broken. It was a day of life for my blessedly work-tired body at the end of the week.

Your kindom come.

Beginning of a new phase

My intention when starting this blog was to follow the lectionary readings, and there was a two-fold idea in there. One was that since I am called to preach, but not allowed to do it weekly from a pulpit, I had to find another place to preach each week. I thought the discipline of struggling with the readings week by week would be a good proof to myself of whether or not the call I had was real- if I couldn’t do it then it wouldn’t be real. As for who to preach to, I guess I needed first of all to preach to myself as at times I haven;t received the preaching I have needed (although currently I am in a community where that is not really true anymore) but then there might be others out there too who needed a Catholic framework but a female/feminist perspective. Not that I can speak for or to ALL women, I don’t think that sort of a generalisation can be helpful. Also I do think men need women’s preaching a lot more than they realise.

But just as God was nagging me to preach, albeit I didn’t have a formal role anywhere so I figured if I put it out there God would find people who want to read it (whether they agree or disagree) so I told a few trusted friends but didn’t waste a lot of time promoting my blog. If God finds it useful then God will support it and if not then promotion isn’t helpful. I still feel very strange talking without cynicism about my faith but I do think that God works in the world even if we have frightening amounts of freedom as humans.

Anyway I could go on following the lectionary forever (I haven;t completed the three years I intended yet) or I could try to find the liberative bible readings that DON’T get included in it and bring them back into the centre. This is a worthwhile activity, one that has already been done by wiser heads than me but a conversation and movement I could engage with so I won’t discount it as a possibility in the future. But as far as the lectionary goes I seem to have got into somewhat of a repetitive pattern where the reading is constrictive and kyriearchal. I tell it so. I find the little bits of hope and tell myself I need to be a better activist in the world. Well and good but I have actually done that already and while for the first cycle the process shaped and honed my thinking, at this point I need a fresh way of seeing so that I don’t make a “routine” out of my blog.

So I had a lot of prayer and reflection time as well as reading some exceptional books (look back on previous blog posts for some of them, currently I am reading “Feminist Practice and Poststructuralist Theory by Chris Weedon) and I have had the opportunity to work (unofficially) with some people at the liturgy itself. I would like to then break the mass up into small sections in its logical order and do some deconstructive and reflective work on the meanings of the words and rituals and what it means and how this functions in the life of a “lay” person, a woman, whatever I am (and hopefully in a way that helps others find their similar or differing perspectives).

This week is just an introduction while I try to locate my very, very worn Sunday Missal which I was given by my parents on the occasion of my “First Holy Communion” an exciting day when I got to play dress-ups in a white dress and veil and finally allowed to go to communion from now on forever and ever (until I was 19 and got raped and thought I was excommunicated for a while). My very battered old missal is a symbol of my relationship with the mass (and sacraments) in terms of having been carefully red (the black writing and the red writing and the variants we never used in our church) and consulted for the reflection my parents encouraged me to make on Sunday readings before we even got to church (a-ha so maybe it is their fault I want to preach). In a sense it was my first lectionary too. It has been an exciting and treasured possession, a constricting and difficult document, an out-dated part of my past but somehow I have held onto it.

It symbolises my long, rich, deep and sometimes troubled relationship with the church- the way I used to choose to go to daily mass as a teenager, my discomfort from the time I was two years old at how passive I was expected to be in the service, the ways I found to do “Something” (such as being a reader or “special minister”) and my envy at brothers who were altar servers. I  really did grow up as a “sacristy rat” as many clergy claim to have done, but I was more rat than most because my place in the sacristy was transgressive and contested, I was more rodent than guest there (being a catholic girl). The euphoria of the sacraments- is it life giving, living water? Or is it just opium of the masses? Being dragged in to pray for vocations to the priesthood and even at the age of eight knowing how ironic it was of them to ask me to pray for this.

“Why didn’t you make me male?” was a prayer that automatically came to mind since it was so strictly held that only men could be ordained, “that would be one more priest”. My prayer was missing the real point but since either God was wrong to make me female or the church was wrong that females couldn’t. Sorry church but I have more faith in God.

So over the next few weeks I will look at the liturgy as we have it. What the priest says and does and what we say and do and how the little girl/teenager/woman that I was experienced it all. And what scripture, theologians and other thinkers tell us when that can inform my thinking. And my struggles to articulate female-friendly liturgy that is faithful to the essence of sacrimentality (but also the reality that God created women/priests, we are not as the church would have us think divine mistakes). I will be very critical. But there is love here- always love.

I keep circling back to the love that exists in the gaps between the patriarchy. The love of activist, assertive women and nurturing, listening men. The love of the children who make noise during the service and the “communion services” where we are not allowed to use words that sound like consecration (but where at times I have experienced a far more consecrating reality). The love of a cat who wanders in and tries to pull down the altar cloth and of the sudden giggle that comes up in a serious moment. The love of the people who take so long to give everyone a “sign of peace” and resist going back to their quiet places. The love of a pot of coffee and plate of biscuits, of elaborately decorated altars with flowers and draped material and candles, of wearing my “Sunday best” or just shorts cause I rode a bike to church. The love of children who go to church just to humour their parents.Love of water, bread, wine, word, flame, breath, hands.

Liturgy remains the work of the people- infused with love.

 

 

 

 

I did not know about your vocation, but I remained open to seeing the Spirit in you

In between the unrelatable metaphor of “servant” (exploited labour) and the nicer but possibly still dangerous concept of “light” to the nations the first reading is telling us that God’s knowing of us, relationship and call go back to when we were in the womb, pre-existing any decisions, social influences and learning we had acquired. This to me is what grace means, that we do not earn or compete for positions in the household of God but we are already called before we even take a breath. To be called into being is to be called into the household, the body of God.Our vocation is not a skill-set or an honour it is our deep and true IDENTITY. What God knows us as, is what we were always meant to be- beyond questions of recognition of the church.

We know this about Jesus. We read about the annunciation and the visitation and the baby in a manger and we are already seeing God in the swell of Mary’s belly, the kick of joy from the baptist (already following his vocation in the womb), the first staggering steps holding a parents hands begin the thousand steps of a ministry. It’s true for each of us. We are already physically star-dust and emotionally God-stuff before we choose how to inhabit that identity.

The psalm agrees. Our deepest longing is for God to come and recognise this in us, the deep longing to be fulfilled in the vocation to follow Christ (as toddlers follow the admired older sibling), to be bigger than our littleness- to strive into the fullness of God. Which is our essence. We are the image of God (we and all of creation) and we are ourselves truly when we honour the possibilities for deep love and hope in ourselves and others. “here I am God, a better thing than any sort of commodified “thing” of religion, more meaningful than sacrifices and offerings- here am I and my deep longing for and delight in your Word, in my potential to actualise you” I love the unsilenced jubilation of the final verse of this psalm, I have for many years on taken it on as a sort of motto:

“I announced your justice in the vast assembly;
I did not restrain my lips, as you, O LORD, know.”

I did not restrain my lips…but of course I did when I was young because I was told that women were supposed to. Luckily the sinful state of silent obedience was unnatural for me and God’s constant egging on broke through it. Of course once we unsilence ourselves we do become responsible for what we say. God’s justice (and some translations add loving-kindness) are worthy topics for ranting.

The second reading is very short, only just long enough to introduce ideas of being “called”, being “sanctified”  Part of our work is building a communion of the called and sanctified, that is recognising the Godness of each other and the vocations in others. It makes me a better person, renews my hope and sense of purpose to be recognised by other humans and it diminished and depressed me for years that the church could not and would not recognise me (but now for me “church” is whoever brings Christ to me and not associated with the hierarchy except sometimes by coincidence).

So then with the customary “Alleluia” we turn to the Word made flesh who chose and chooses to live with and in us. To Jesus the purest version of who we are supposed to be.John the Baptist as the established church is busy practising his ministry, at times having trouble being heard but having a power of sorts. What does he do when his younger cousin Jesus comes up filled with vocation? He not only moves over and makes room for the ministry of Jesus but he proclaims and assists that ministry. This is a part of the servant-leadership of priesthood that can be hard- sharing the spotlight, easing the ministry of others and the paths of people to the good news as proclaimed by someone who is not ME.

John did not “know Jesus” but being an open sort of a person he “saw the Spirit” alight on him. This is our challenge to remain open to the Spirit in each other and in nature. We need to look beyond ourselves and beyond our pre-determined ideas of God. In Scripture and beyond scripture. In the church however flawed it might be and beyond the church into the apparently sinful world and apparently dangerous nature and apparent heathens and queers and transgressives of all types. And even the hierarchy (Elizabeth Johnson does this well and shames me for so quickly dismissing the “church Fathers”).

John teaches us to look for and recognise God in our cousins and other young upstarts- but Jesus trusts John to work with him and comes to him openly too. The church is not one individual- it isn’t about superstars and heroes. We listen, affirm, work together. We see the Spirit in each other, we baptise each other and confirm the pre-existing touch of God in each life.

Our ministry is not judgement and separation. It is connection. It is love.

A transgressive, transformative masculinity

This week’s readings are hereI only consciously used the gospel (Matthew) but I read all of them.

Joseph was a man, a tradesman- perhaps a small business owner. He was working class, though probably not poor, his son Jesus seems to have received a decent sort of an education and had the freedom to wander as a street-preacher/magician rather than being desperately needed to support the family. I guess what I am trying to portray is a man with a vested interest in the status quo, a man with some privilege but also precariously enough placed that “honour” was a concern.

It was a patriarchal world. Men’s honour especially around “their” women’s sexuality was a significant thing. For Joseph to act as a man of his time, do the “right” thing, the “rational” thing, the “common-sense” thing would be to break off his engagement to Mary. In his time and place, it may not have been seen as unusual or unduly harsh if he made a big fuss (which might have led to her being cast out of the community or stoned I suppose) but he is “righteous” and unwilling to expose her to shame. Nevertheless there is no real question within his place and time (and his role as a man, a potential head of a household) of continuing a relationship with a young woman who is pregnant with someone else’s child.

It’s easy then to view what happens simplistically, God speaks and Joseph obeys. If we go further and view God as “male” then it becomes a meeting between two males to discuss the fate of a woman and child. If we read it this way, then nothing very radical happens, though we breathe a sigh of relief that Mary and that important baby are safe.

But what does our experience tell us about God speaking? An “angel” appeared to him in a “dream”. Without wanting to keep God out of the equation, I want to bring in a more modern understanding of what dreams are. Our “subconscious” communicates our deeply held and sometimes hidden from desires and truths to us in dreams. Science around natural processes like evolution, tells us that God’s influence over the world works with the nature of what the world is, with the cause and effect (and free will) of processes, organisms, lifecycles, webs of relationality. God can only communicate to the person whose heart is open to God (otherwise we have no free will). God calls us into right ways of being with each other- yes- but never against our deepest self. Joseph’s call from God and unhesitating response to it reveals something deeply true about Joseph’s nature and inner being.

Joseph resolves on the “common sense” course of action but his sleep is troubled by his inner need for relationship, to be a nurturer of something he neither owns nor controls. God speaks into his potential for unselfish love and asks for the impossible. Lay aside your patriarchal ownership of your family and follow Mary’s vocation, nurture a child of God. Significantly the angel says “Do not be afraid” indicating that the only thing stopping Joseph from this radical course of love, was fear. God takes away the need to fear, the need to know, the need to control.

Oftentimes men who claim to be “feminist” or “pro-feminist” or “anti-sexist” expect women to be very emotionally nurturing of them, to explain everything and open up everything to them and to keep on every step coaxing, seducing and rewarding them for the slightest pro-feminist leaning. Let’s not get side-tracked into “not all men” because that sort of a debate is actually part of the pattern I am speaking about. Men then, within patriarchy often expect women to be the keepers and sorters of their emotions one way or another, to constantly reassure and encourage them and to take emotional responsibility for a relationship.

Within that context, this is a good week for me to remember that even though I often use the female pronoun for God, God is in fact NOT FEMALE just as much as I have previously asserted that God is NOT MALE. I need to underline that in preface to looking at who does the “emotional labour” of this encounter.  Initially I was suspicious of the way Mary gets talked about and does not get to speak in this story, and in fact far too much of the bible is phallocentric and features women only in semi-objectified roles. But when I remember the way Mary comes across in Luke and John’s gospel as very much having her own mind and motivations, her own feisty relationship with God and deep trust in her child. When I remember how little Joseph is featured in the gospels except as a background to Mary and the baby or in a “Mary and Joseph” sort of a scene where they both fail to fully understand Jesus then I am keen to see the value of this episode.

Then I begin to see that what we have here is a man taking emotional responsibility for himself and his own difficult feelings, sitting with the situation instead of rushing to take it out on “his” woman and letting God speak and advise him instead of expecting to be emotionally babied. Then I get to see that the angel’s “explanation” to Joseph is no sort of an explanation really, that ultimately he is still in the dark about a significant event in Mary’s life. His choice to love and trust her unconditionally remains a choice, it is not at all made easy or logical by the angel quoting scripture at him!

So Joseph takes the pregnant Mary into his home and becomes one of those heroic people who loves a child for some reason other than a desire for your own genes to continue. Jesus is born into a home that transgresses the hetero-sexual matrix (in the way his parents fail to stick to the strictest versions of their gender roles, in the loss of patriarchal “honour” by Joseph accepting him, in the unorthodox way he has been conceived- although we actually know very little about that we know it wasn’t something that happened within marriage). God as Jesus’ co-parent relates to Mary and brings Joseph into the equation too. I like to think that after all this courage, Mary and Joseph had a loving and warm relationship and I certainly am not trying to undermine the idea of a man loving a woman or a woman loving a man. It is significant though, in a time when we are as a society asking questions about whether there is one shape of family only that God has mandated to recall that Jesus’ own situation was somewhat transgressive and not entirely respectable for his place and time. His parents had to show great courage to bring up this child of God.

So add this one last miracle to the lead-up to Christ’s birth. A man follows his heart (stirred by God) to courageously love and follow what he cannot control. A family is made outside the narrowly patriarchal tradition of what counts. God is with us!

Whither


“Whither goest thou?” “The Whither of our driving self-transcendence is that ineffable plenitude toward which we are journeying, the goal which summons and bears our thirsty minds and desiring hearts.” (Elizabeth A. Johnson, Abounding in kindness, 2015) For me this idea, taken by Johnson from Rahner is a good one. i have limited time but I will try to reflect on this

Whither...
is a question not a clear destination
is an orientation that is hard to label or type
but is a movement, a wandering, intentional movement toward
Whither then but into love?

Toward then the creative act of hope that created a universe 
and allowed us freedom within it
to fiery words of prophets and the forgotten labouring of countless mothers
to the wilderness to voice our discontent
and be given manna and eventually perhaps home
to the law and past the law
and back to the heart of justice, kindness, humble with

Whither? There
then to the pages of human history
and forward to the girl found suddenly pregnant
the "women's business" discussed by cousins
the casting of the mighty from their thrones
the lifting up of the lowly and our willingness
to bear the cost
the foot of the cross...but not yet

because first to the water changed to wine
the friends on the road
the stories woven and meals shared
the hospitality of the Marthas and the ears of the Maries
the raising of the dead brother (if only)
the loaves, the fishes
the one last great party, the foot washing
the kiss of betrayal, the friends asleeep
alone and terrified

the refusal to compromise with abuse
the ridicule, the slowly inevitable unravelling of the world
the foot of the cross
the abandonment by God
the faithful women (themselves unfaithfully forgotten).

The cold, dark tomb
the heavy stone
the light-clad stranger (angel?)
the women's faithfulness beyond real hope
the unexpected absence signifying presence
the hearts burning within us
the breaking of the bread
the eternity.

And whither then in 2016?
The commissioning back into
justice, kindness, walk humbly wither
with her
costly justice, reckless kindness
humbly, passionately, openly, lovingly
walk into the truth,
the beauty

Wisdom calls on every corner
of every street
whither? With her
How to summon up an answering baby Wisdom
within myself?

If today you hear God’s voice…

If today you hear her voice, harden not your hearts!

The voice of God is everywhere calling us to a life based on compassion (e.g. here), equality (e.g. here) and depth (e.g. here). She calls to our sense of humanity (e.g. here) and for us to seek wisdom (e.g. here).

All the readings this week decry the life lived according to the lowest common denominator- worldly wealth and worldly success. I don’t want to get stuck into a Spirit vs Body binary, because I think if we focus too much on ideals of “spirit” and the “next life” we can miss the politics of the reign of God, calling us to a meaningful life HERE and NOW.

We feed our spirits, not by neglecting our own bodies but by looking out for the bodies of the others who are Christ in our lives (refugees, homeless people, children from low-income households, disabled people). We invest in God’s eternity not by hiding in warm houses praying and chanting praise while our brothers and sisters freeze, but by remembering that we connect with God through how we treat other members of creation (true images of God).

But in 2016, the logic of tearing down the existing barn to build a larger one to store wealth more than needed for one lifetime does not really even shock us anymore. The greed of hoarding and wasteful living while others suffer is exactly what our society and our economic system are based upon. We are the fools in the parable and Jesus calls us to pursue a different form of enrichment.

Harden not your heart.

Recently I met a woman from interstate who for some years now has been working with refugees: supporting, advocating, seeking, justice. When she heard I was an unemployed single mother she bought a bowl of chips “to share” and placed it in front of my son (who was happy to work hard at emptying the bowl). We had a few views in common so I added her on Facebook. To meet her in the flesh, you would not think of her as a rich woman: she has a hard-working job that pays and average amount. She is well enough to live but not dazzlingly rich.

When I added her on Facebook I got a completely different impression. The friends this woman has! The many culturally diverse and rich in wisdom contacts that share love and insights with her all over her page. I began to see, how my new friend’s life choices HAVE in fact made her dazzlingly rich, but with something better than just money and the paranoia that goes with an overemphasis on money. The same story could be told of many of the people I go to church with. When I look at friends who have chosen to pursue compassion, creativity, tolerance, courageous living, sustainability and love I see rich people.

Greed really is idolatry, as we are told in Colossians. How often do you hear religious-sounding language used about “the economy” and are we treated as heretics if we believe that we ought to preserve values of sharing and supporting each other instead of competition and malignant “growth”. And yet in Christ we are not Indigenous Australians, colonial Australians and asylum seekers; we are not Christians, atheists or Muslims; we are not men, women or trans; we are not hipsters or bogans; private or public school; leafy suburbs or Elizabeth. In Christ we are called to the meaning that is only found through un-othering, through seeing that wealth is what we do toward the reign of God, how we open ourselves to meaning and transformation and above all love.

In an Islamophobic, paranoid, climate-threatened Australia of 2016 so many of us have anxiety disorder and burnout. We spend the whole day working hard, the whole week swelling our bank account to save for the school fees or the holiday or the investment property and then we fear existential angst and can’t sleep at night. Vanity of vanities. Or we have inadequate income and we schedule our dehumanising Centrelink appointments and toss and turn and can’t sleep at night. Vanity again.

We spend thousands of dollars on weddings and funerals, but don’t have time to talk to the elderly relatives or play with the children. We shop to try to dull the pain. We go to the hairdresser every six weeks and the gym or pool twice a week and look so damn beautiful that someone should put us in a movie- but the wrinkles we know will keep upon us and the regrowth shows the grey as well. We are not born to live and glitter forever. Vanity of vanities.

My addictions are reading and writing. Not bad things per se, but at times I retreat into them to try to shut out the world of other people’s needs. I stare at the screen, trying to make my words beautiful so others will like and approve of me. I am intentionally clever, or disingenuously humble or funny, or wise or virtuous as I spill words out hour after hour and lap up the joy of sharing them with others. Vanity.

Nothing that we do is bad, but if our ONLY focus in life is eating, drinking, adorning ourselves or our homes, performing our talents, gratifying our vanity and escaping into fantasy worlds while our brothers and sisters starve and the overburdened earth weeps then all the good things that we have become dust. It’s a question of where in our lives (and our nation) do we make room for the reign of God?

No “if” about it you will hear his voice today. Will you harden your heart?

The “better part” in a world that doesn’t get it

It seems like over the centuries nothing much has changed. As Amos had God saying back in the time of the first reading, so we could easily believe God would start an angry rant today:

” Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land,”

These are “good business-men” according to the values of 2016, they are very concerned with efficiency. They want the holidays (holy days) to be over so they can get back to making money, they alter the measures to give themselves a better profit margin. Any multi-national of today would gladly welcome such canny entrepreneurs into its fold! But these days the disease has spread. Schools and hospitals, care centres, churches and even charities feel the pressure to behave the same way. Everything we have is commodified and then watered down to make it cheap to produce and sell.

The needy are trampled upon, the land is ruined like never before. So if God was angry then, what might God be feeling now (no point in saying Jesus’ death cancelled out all of that, since Jesus never said that social justice was obsolete, or that his death came to replace our responsibility for how we live).

But we do slowly compromise our beliefs to get along in this very difficult and cynical society: “buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.”

God notices and God does not overlook this. The rest of the reading is full of dire threats against the escapist sties of excess of the rich.:”The time is surely coming, says the Lord GOD, when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD.”

And is that not what we experience when we bury ourselves in lavish but empty lifestyles and pursuits? Having been quite well off, and recently having experienced a lack of many things that would make life easier, I have been brought face to face with the best and worst in people. Many people have dealt very generously with me, and that puts me to shame because I know that when I am well off, I forget a little about the suffering of others.

But none of us should forget the homeless in this hideous winter weather (a bus station is better than the street but still woefully inadequate when the wind howls and the rain floods). None of us should forget the children in large classes, with inadequate learning materials and exhausted teachers. It may not be my child, but it ought not to be anyone’s child. None of us should neglect the ill or the old or the mentally ill, or those who were kicked off their centrelink payments just in time for the school holidays, so that their children will go back to school with nothing to talk about the holidays apart from how cold and hungry and scared they were.

My challenge is to help people more than I do, but our collective challenge also is to change these systems, because increasingly there is too much hardship for one person’s charity to reach (and world-wide the situation is even more bleak). As God (via Amos) reminds us that the land itself has been oppressed we need to look at atrocities like fracking, nuclear weapons, excessive consumption, genetic manipulation of seeds to maximise control and profit, cynical versions of medical research, fossil fuels….the reality that we have already changed the global climate in extremely dangerous ways.

The apocalyptic message of night and day becoming skewed and wide-spread lamenting seems quite close to hand and God in the reading seems to vow that the wilfully blindly privileged will not remain untouched by this curse they are calling down. The psalm jeers at those who are foolish enough to take refuge in their excessive wealth instead of God. But the “righteous”, presumably the one who seeks God’s values for living is like an olive (judging by the olive trees I never planted, that are taking over my yard this means tenacious and resilient). Somehow withing all the apocalyptic possibilities before us we trust in the steadfast LOVE of God.

That love has never meant easy answers, or that we are off the hook. But in some way we may not yet be able to grasp it translates into hope for those who DO speak up for the poor and for the earth. The second reading adds evidence for this. We have Christ’s headship and ongoing presence making the best out of us, turning us back from evil ways to redeemed possibilities (I cannot see how, but the hope is there). But our hope is part of or faith, both things we need to steadfastly hold onto. Some aspects of this are mystery, we do not know everything. Wisdom in the second reading consists of trusting God and turning toward God’s way of life, listening to the warnings and teachings to achieve a “mature” faith.

Finally the gospel.

This is one of the ones that at times I have grappled with. Because what makes Mary so special? It seems really rough on Martha that she is excluded from the ease of Jesus and the apostles. Granted I can’t see that it would be better if Mary also had to do the “shit work”. But I can’t blame Martha for being angry that she has been left with all the work. I enjoyed a book called “Through a Woman’s eyes: encounters with Jesus” by Chris Burke that I read several years ago that put a different possibility on this story, with some of the male apostles being less entitled and helping Martha out so that Mary could have her connection and teaching from Jesus. To me those sort of imaginative possibilities are helpful but in the context of today’s readings I can see another twist to it too.

Ignoring questions of gender (and I realise we can’t always do this) and relegating Jesus and the apostles to background in the power-play between Mary and Martha, I put myself into the place of Martha (easy for someone like me to do). I am resentful, jealous, tired. I resort to judging because I am not getting what I need. If I then read Mary as a special little flower who has more important things to do than help me then I remain angry! But the fact is I don’t know about Mary. I have not walked in her shoes. I do not know her inner battles, her exhaustion, her background or why she needs to simply sit at the feet of Jesus, drawing in healing, life, teaching.

So my challenge (still as Martha) is to get my needs met in a way that does not judge Mary. I don’t think that this is a perfect way of reading this episode of the gospels, but it becomes relevant to the other readings of the week if we consider our society’s suspicious and grudging attitudes towards artists, thinkers, “dole bludgers”, the disabled or single parents. We feel envy and resentment at how hard we need to work and the fact that others are given what they need whether they appear (to us) to have earned it or not. We are beginning to teach ourselves to see taxes NOT as a public good, but as our hard-earned cash that ought to deliver a measurable good to ME the individual consumer. Instead of thinking about what is missing in our own lives (more family time, leisure, creative expression, meaningful connection, spirituality) we can get caught up in feeling self-righteous about how unpleasant it feels to “have to” be an economic participant in such a flawed society and losing our compassion in the fear that added pressures will be put on us, or that something will be taken away.

I have felt like this. It is related to the panic that people from overseas will come and drive down our minimum wage and take away our (seemingly) inadequate share of the cake.

Martha’s thinking is twisted because she says “make Mary work” instead of “I need to find a way to spend less effort so that I too can come and connect in with the Word and have Life”. We ought to have compassion for Martha because I feel that we all make that mistake one way or the other when we look at “others”. But as Jesus explains, Martha does not fully understand what is going on with Mary (or the possibility that she could and should have it too).

Jesus reminds us to look at ourselves, and get our own priorities right instead of trying to take away the joys, interests and vocation of others. I don’t think he is endorsing the exploitation of Martha (and if he is I would quarrel with him). In Amos we see the devastation that comes when people’s wrong priorities are allowed to fester into selfishness, and their skills go into getting ahead instead of getting along. The psalm echoes this and reminds us that our safety is in God not in wealth. Colossians reminded us that hope comes from coming to Jesus with a steadfastness.

All of us have things in our lives we could cut back on or slow down on to focus on relating and to redirect ourselves toward hope. All of us have people like Martha, who judge us when we don’t “look busy” or compete at mundane things. Perhaps we also have the tendency to show off unimportant things instead of just relating, and to try to control the contribution of others.

What is the “better part” and how do we choose it? How do we also free up our sisters (Marthas) and others to have some “better part” in their own lives too?